Opinion |

This Is the First Thing Israel's New Government Should Do

Noa Landau
Noa Landau
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to his supporters at his Likud party's headquarters in Jerusalem, in March 2021.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to his supporters at his Likud party's headquarters in Jerusalem, in March 2021.Credit: Ariel Schalit / AP
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

If a Bennett-Lapid government is indeed formed – and we’ve been through enough in the past two years to remain doubtful until the last moment – its first mission, before anything else, must be to set term limits for the prime minister. Long before it addresses the lack of a national budget or the deep divisions in society, the first, immediate lesson of the 12 straight years of Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure (15 in all) must be that having power concentrated for too long in the hands of one person, whomever that may be, clearly raises the risk of harming the democratic balance and of increasing governmental corruption.

Theoretically, in a parliamentary democracy there are also reasons not to limit a prime minister’s term. First, there’s the argument that it reflects the will of the voters. Second, the separation of powers is supposed to serve as a brake that enables the ousting of leaders who deviate from the straight and narrow. Third, there are several countries around the world whose long-serving leaders are not corrupt.

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But Israel is not one of them. The voters’ wishes were not decisive, the separation of powers has been worn thin, and the fact that there may be some wonderful leaders elsewhere doesn’t help us here. In other words, Netanyahu is no Angela Merkel, and even Merkel finally has to step down. The current moral-political crisis, the worst in the country’s history, is the ultimate proof of the need for term limits.

The arguments in favor of them, given the lessons from Netanyahu’s rule, are even more obvious: The concentration of so much power in his hands resulted in what is known as “presidentialization” – when the prime minister and his office amass overwhelming power at the expense of all other state institutions. Indeed, in the Netanyahu era, bodies like the security cabinet, even the cabinet itself, became total rubber stamps, not to mention the Knesset and other institutions that are supposed to provide checks and balances. All sense of balance also collapsed within the ruling party’s mechanisms, where Netanyahu turned internal competition into a joke.

The danger of increased corruption has also proven to be real, and not just on the official legal level in the form of a hefty bundle of indictments, but also on the ethical level, within the prime minister’s residence and office. Certainly, corruption may also occur in shorter periods of rule, but that is not what happened here. Just listen to the survivors of the prime minister’s immediate sphere who are now secretly waiting for the day that the rain washes away all the filth they saw. These people, who served the system, saw for themselves how, with each passing year, Netanyahu's lust for holding onto power grew alongside his prioritizing of personal interests above public ones.

The government that might soon replace Netanyahu will not be in agreement on practically any substantial issue. Not on foreign affairs, legal issues or matters of religion and state. How did Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, slated to be the next environmental protection minister, put it recently? Such a government could deal with the climate crisis.

But with all due respect to Israel’s and Zandberg’s ability to save the planet, this government will have just one real job: to free Israel of Netanyahu. Therefore, placing term limits on the next Netanyahu type to come along is a critical part of the mission. Such a move will only be possible at the start of the new government’s tenure, when the memory of corruption is still fresh and Netanyahu’s successors have yet to develop megalomaniacal ambitions of their own. The public must demand this of them before it once again becomes too late.

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